Does the shape of the wine glass really matter?
Christine Carroll is a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California. She is also one of the SrinciSDlV Rf CrRVVing VineyDrdV Dnd :inery, D fRrPer Rfficer of the Pennsylvania Winery Association’s Board of Directors and former Secretary of the Bucks County Wine Trail. You can
contact her at: [email protected]ingvineyards.com
Does the shape of the glass make a difference in the way wine tastes? The answer, in a word, is yes. And I can prove it. Better yet, you can prove it for yourself.
Full Disclosure: I have been a supporter of Riedel glassware for many years, and I’m sure my prejudice will be evident in this article. True, many companies now offer glasses molded into the “proper” shapes, but in my experience, Riedel is the best.
I approached my first Riedel Tasting with an attitude. This whole shape thing had to be hype… a marketing ploy to get insecure people to overpay for an overpriced product. I mean the Italians drink their wine from water tumblers. So why would I want to spend 50 bucks for one glass?
When I sat down at the table for my Riedel Tasting with the different shaped glasses lined up in front of me, I was loaded for bear. What a bunch of…. grapes!
As I went through the process, which involved tasting certain varietals from the “wrong” Riedel glass, then a non-Riedel glass, then the “right” Riedel glass, my skepticism waivered. Each varietal tasted not just better, but totally different, in the proper Riedel glass. And the wine not only tasted better, it actually looked better.
After the tasting I was convinced. Sort of. Wasn’t the proof, after all, in the (you should pardon the expression) pudding? I accepted the empirical evidence, but a nagging question remained. “Why”?
So like any good journalist I did my research. Here is what I found:
• Professor Claus Riedel was the first designer to recognize that the shape of a glass affects a wine’s bouquet, taste, balance and finish. He developed a new line of stemware based on the Bauhaus design principle: form follows function.
• In 1961 Riedel published a catalogue featuring the first line of wine glasses in different sizes and shapes. Before that time, stemware had used a basic bowl shape.
• When wine is poured, it immediately starts to evaporate, and its aromas quickly fill the glass in layers according to their density and specific gravity. That is how the size and shape of the glass can be fine tuned to the typical aromas of different grape varieties.
• The lightest, most fragile aromas rise to the rim of the glass; the middle fills with earthy and vegetal scents and the heaviest aromas remain at the bottom. Swirling increases the evaporation and intensity of aromas, but does not encourage elements to blend together.
• The initial point of contact depends on the shape and volume of the glass, the diameter of the rim and its finish, whether a cut and polished edge or a rolled edge. Based on the shape of the glass, the wine flows to the appropriate place on the tongue.
• The shape of the glass forces the head to position itself in such a way that you drink and do not spill. Wide, open glasses require us to sip by lowering the head, whereas a narrow rim forces the head to tilt backward so that the liquid flows there because of its gravity. This delivers and positions the beverage to different taste zones on the palate.
• There are four taste zones in the mouth: Sweet registers on the front of the tongue; Sour on the sides; Bitter in the back; Salty in the middle.
Finally I had a sensory explanation for the phenomenon I had experienced. Now I am no scientist, but I am a wine lover, and as far as I’m concerned, there is no doubt. Wine just tastes and looks better in the proper shaped glass.
If you would like to prove this “theory” for yourself, set up an abbreviated form of the Riedel Tasting.
Use a Riedel Ouverture Series Chardonnay glass. (The Ouverture line is one of Riedel’s most affordable.) Here is what the glasses should look like, white on the left, red on the right:
First, pour Chardonnay into a Riedel Chardonnay (white wine) glass. Taste it, then pour the wine into a Riedel Bordeaux (red wine) glass. Taste it, then pour the wine into non-Riedel glass. (Any glass or shape will do.) Taste it, then pour the wine into a Riedel Chardonnay glass again. Taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Chardonnay looks and tastes better in.
Next, pour a hearty red wine (preferably a Cabernet or Bordeaux blend) into a Riedel Bordeaux (red wine) glass. Taste it, then pour the wine into a Riedel Chardonnay (white wine) glass. Taste it, then pour the wine into a non-Riedel glass. (Any glass or shape will do.) Taste it, then pour the wine back into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Cabernet or Bordeaux blend looks and tastes better in.
Does the shape of a wine glass really matter? If you’re a wine lover like me, the answer is a resounding Yes!
If you would like learn more about Riedel glassware, sign up for “A Wine Tasting in Riedel Crystal,” at Crossing sineyards and Winery on February 10 at 2 p.m. The cost is $99 and includes a Tasting Kit with 4 Riedel glasses (Retail salue $125).
Call for reservations (215493-6500, ext.19, or buy online: www.crossingvineyards. com)